Little Bits of History

Sex Is Obscene

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 19, 2011

Mae West

April 19, 1927: Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail on obscenity charges. Her play, Sex, opened in 1926. She both wrote and starred in the work. It was quite a popular play and had been seen by 325,000 people prior to her arrest in February 1927. The New York Police Department raided the playhouse and brought charges. Ironically, the play had been seen by members of the police department and their wives, judges of the criminal courts, and seven members of the district attorney’s staff. Regardless, West was sentenced to ten days in a workhouse on Roosevelt Island and fined $500 [about $6,100 today].

Mary Jane West was born in Brooklyn, New York on August 17, 1893. Her father was a prizefighter who took up private investigation later in life. Her mother was corset and fashion model. She had a brother and sister and the family moved frequently but stayed in New York City. Mae first entertained a crowd at the age of five and began appearing in amateur shows by the age of seven. She won prizes in talent contests and began performing professionally in Vaudeville in 1907 at the age of 14. She first appeared under the stage name of Baby Mae.

Mae first appeared in a legitimate Broadway show in 1911 but the show folded after just eight performances. She finally got her big break in the Shubert Brothers revue, Sometime, playing opposite Ed Wynn. Mae was offered a motion picture contract in 1932 at the age of 38. She appeared in twelve films, ten of them between 1932 and 43. She also had eleven albums as well as at least 21 singles.

Mae first married in 1911 at the age of 17. She and Frank Szatkus [Wallace] kept the marriage a secret for some time. They never lived together. She divorced him in 1943. She also secretly married Guido Deiro in 1914 and they split in 1916 and divorced in 1920. Although she never married again, she had a long time relationship with Paul Novak. She had many other boyfriends throughout her life. She remained close with her family and her remaining family moved out to Hollywood with her when she began her film career. She lived in the penthouse of the Ravenswood apartments until her death in 1980 at the age of 87.

“Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”

“When women go wrong, men go right after them.”

“Why don’t you come up sometime and see me? … Come on up, I’ll tell your fortune.” – all from Mae West

Also on this day:
Look It Up – In 1928, the last fascicle of the Oxford English Dictionary is published.
Trippin’ – In 1943, Albert Hofmann tried LSD.

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